I thought my first encounter with Kefir was on The Archers. In fact, having read more about it, I must have drunk it in Sweden, in Russia, in Siberia, in Turkey, in Mongolia and not realised what it was.
Kefir is a cultured and fermented milk drink. It can be made with cow, sheep, goat (and probably yak, camel, mares although that is likely to be in short supply where you are). It can also be made with soya milk and nut milks including coconut, although I understand that you will need to start the culture with ‘proper’ milk. It works best with full cream milk. Why? Because it is a live yeast/bacteria culture that feeds on the proteins in the liquid milk and animal proteins are more robust in that regard.
I started with a Kefir grains purchased via the internet. You might have a friend who has some spare – the grains multiply quite quickly as you go through the process so advertising in local Facebook Marketplace or Freecycle might yield quick and local rewards.
I first became a fan of raw milk when I passed the dinky little Friesian painted hut at Fen Farm near Bungay where there is an automatic dispenser for the milk. £1 for 2litres of full cream milk. It is delicious. However when I decided to make Kefir I looked for a source closer to home so now I go to the delightful Coston Hall near Wymondham. Exactly the same set up.
The watchwords here are scrupulous and cleanliness. Himself laughed at my ‘special’ cupboard. You don’t need much equipment. I have two new 1litre Kilner jars, one nylon sieve, one dedicated wooden spoon, two plastic jugs but I keep them separate from all my other kitchen stuff.
Wash your hands. Remove the Kefir grains from the package – they look like plump little transparent pearls. Drop them into a plastic jug. Add 250ml of milk and mix carefully with a wooden spoon (don’t use any metal utensils). Pour all this into a Kilner jar, close the lid and put somewhere warm (the airing cupboard in our house) and leave it. Don’t fiddle with it!! In 24 to 48 hours take a look and you should see a) bubbles and b) a clear separating vein of whey. If you don’t see it, be patient. Check again the next day.
Little whoops of excitement (mine) came from the airing cupboard when I looked and found that separating vein.
When this happens, pour the contents carefully into a clean plastic jug through a sieve and help the liquid through with the wooden spoon. Do this gently. You will find the grains in the bottom of the sieve. Drop these grains into a clean jar and add 250ml milk. Repeat the process about 4 times. The purpose of this is to give the grains a good ‘feed’ and to make them robust. This is a living organism and needs to be cared for. The remaining liquid part will get thicker every time (I eat it on muesli).
When the liquid comes out really thick it is time to increase the amount of milk, first to 500ml, then 750ml then 1litre. By the time you get to 1litre you will probably need to leave it to ferment for 4days – sufficient to use about 250ml a day for two people once you are ‘brewing’ 1litre quantities. After a couple of weeks you will have a really robust ‘starter’ (just as you would for sourdough or ginger beer, for example). Once you get going you will get into a lovely rhythm and you might find that your starter is so robust that the volume of Kefir you are making looks like it might get out of hand! Now is the time to be generous – use half the grains and give the other half to someone else. they will need to start the process from scratch.
Bur what about when I go on holiday I hear you cry? Well there are two options….. either you leave the grains in a cool place for no more than a couple of weeks with just a little milk but at low temperature to reduce its activity, or you lodge it with a trusted friend who feeds it and has free Kefir. They might even be future recipients of a starter culture themselves.
I found it very helpful to look at YouTube clips such as this one from HappyKombucha to get the whole process embedded in my head, and I noticed a distinct difference when comparing the commercial Kefir made with pasteurised and unpasteurised milk which I bought from Asda, Tesco and a wholefood shop to begin with. True Kefir should have a slight ‘fizz’ to it nd I have found that those made with pasteurised milk do not have this. This is the main reason I use raw (unpasteurised) milk from TB-free registered herds.
Happy Kefir making. I am by no means an expert, but do contact me if you are making it and want to talk about it.